PUERTO VALLARTA, México - In sleepier days, one could have bumped into John Wayne in the bar at the Hotel Oceana or gotten a glimpse of Elizabeth Taylor with Richard Burton when "Night of the Iguana" was filmed here back in the 1960's.
Puerto Vallarta was a tiny pueblo back then, a town with cobblestone streets and white-washed buildings with red-tiled roofs. The city was splashed with bougainvillea and hibiscus flowers and surrounded by mountains, ocean and deep jungle, where "The Predator" was filmed.
Today, it stills holds on to its Mexican charm. The old-fashioned taco stands are abundant and the Malecon, a pedestrian promenade that parallels the Pacific Ocean beach, is lined with shops, restaurants and hotels. This is where locals and tourists come to watch the sunset.
But it was only a matter of time before Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Internet Cafes, Planet Hollywood, Outback Steakhouse and Hooters reached the Mexican Rivera, the Western Pacific coast of México.
Since Puerto Vallarta shares the same latitude as Hawaii, with temperature averaging 78 from December through April, it was also only a matter of time before golf became a focus of tourism. Puerto Vallarta would love to someday challenge Los Cabos-Cabo San Lucas as the premier golf destination in the country.
Graziano Sovernigo, founder and director of Paradise Village Beach Resort and Spa, just minutes away in Nuevo Vallarta, has done his part bringing golf here. "I'm happy to say Puerto Vallarta is finally arriving as a golf destination. It took too long, but now we have seven courses."
The seventh course, El Tigre Golf Club at Paradise Village, opened in March with grand festivities. It was Robert von Hagge's 11th design in México, making him the most prolific golf course designer south of the border.
Today's Puerto Vallarta golfer has six other choices for golf -- Vista Vallarta Golf Club Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf Courses, Marina Vallarta Golf Course, Los Flamingos Golf Club, Mayan Palace Golf Club and 40 minutes away is Punta Mita Golf Club.
"Puerto Vallarta has come a long way," said von Hagge, who teams with Richard Baril and Mike Smelek in Spring, TX. "You have Vista Vallarta up on the hill with the Nicklaus and Weiskopf designs on great terrain and now you have El Tigre, which was not the most romantic piece of property I've ever worked with. But I think this golf course is going to kick some butt."
Framed in all directions by the Sierra Madre Mountains, El Tigre is 7,239 yards, par 72, of manufactured golf course. It was built on a flat piece of land and the von Hagge layout called for a lot of dirt movement and nine separate bodies of water, just a minute away from the Pacific Ocean and Paradise Village Beach Resort and Spa.
And the talk from those first golfers to test El Tigre was about the 18th hole, a par-5, 621-yard Tiger, with water all down the left side. The hole took a bite out of just about everyone. In the afternoon it plays into the teeth of a gritty breeze. And, like it wasn't with enough sting, the green is surrounded by sand.
Von Hagge heard, "No. 18 is a great par-six hole", countless times over the grand opening weekend.
"I still think our members and guests will thoroughly enjoy El Tigre because it's challenging, yet not punitive," said von Hagge. "While the scratch golfer will certainly be tested from the championship tees, higher handicappers will find a variety of tee placements suitable to their games."
The dirt movement created undulating, wide fairways, contoured sand bunkers, grass mounds and bunkers, and the layout teases you several times with greens perched above a rock wall, jutting out like peninsulas against water.
No. 6, a 185-yard par-3 plays to a Sawgrass-like island green and the trio of final holes might balloon your score. No. 17 is 250 yards from the back, a par 3 with sand and water left. No. 16 is 421 yards of sand and water, a dogleg right at the end, with one of those tantalizing peninsula approaches.
Mexican architect Ernesto del Castillo designed the beautiful Spanish-styled 45,000-square foot clubhouse, which includes a restaurant, lounge, locker rooms, golf shop and European Spa.
Troon Golf of Scottsdale, AZ, manages El Tigre, making its portfolio 114 courses under management or development. Troon is known as the best throughout the industry.
Paradise Village Beach Resort and Spa
Paradise Village Golf and Country Club
Paseo de los Cocoteros #001
Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, México C.P. 63731
Telephone: USA Toll Free: 800-995-5714.
Green Fees: $80 to $155, plus golf cart.
ClubCorp's Vista Vallarta offers Nicklaus or Weiskopf designs set in the foothills 10 minutes from the PV marina. The Nicklaus course measures 7,057 yards and features long par-5 holes. Weiskopf's layout has more native jungle growth, is tighter, and has a signature par 3 that appears to be carved out of the jungle hillside.
The most spectacular area course is the Nicklaus' design at Punta Mita complete with a Four Seasons Resort. Here you will experience Pebble Beach scenery with turquoise-colored Pacific Ocean golf holes and perfect winter temperatures.
Punta Mita is uncrowded and has one of the most spectacular holes in the world, a par 3 of 190 yards, that plays to a natural black, lava-rock island. Your only entry to the green comes at low tide, tip-toeing across a sandbar, unless you have an amphibious vehicle or boat. You will need a low, boring shot nailed into a tough head wind or cross wind to par this one. Eight holes border the ocean with a photo op at every turn.
Nicklaus' senior designer, Jim Lipe, authored the 6,700-yard Mayan Palace Golf Club, just next door to El Tigre. Mayan Palace is a fun, less-challenging course with a hefty 580-yard, dogleg-left par-5 No. 13. Another scenic hole is a 180-yard par 3 that plays over an lake to an oceanfront green with a view of the Pacific.
Just three minutes from Paradise Village is Los Flamingos Country Club. This 18-hole course is located in the countryside with lakes, jungle and countless birds. It was designed by architect Percy J. Clifford and offers tennis, too.
The Marina Vallarta Golf Club, designed by Joe Finger, has birds, iguanas and crocodiles on the site. The course winds through palms, natural lagoons and has oceanfront fairways along with Banderas Bay views.The Hotel at Paradise Village Mayan architecture awaits you at Paradise Village, a 12-acre peninsula, just on the northern fringe of Puerto Vallarta, in Nuevo Vallarta. Here you can enjoy the sweeping views of Banderas Bay, the world's largest crescent-shaped bay, and a pristine stretch of Pacific Ocean beach.
It even has its own zoo complete with tigers and cubs, a lion, monkeys, tropical birds and more. No other resort hotel in the area offers so many amenities -- a great place to relax or run yourself ragged with all the recreational opportunities.
The Tulum Restaurant overlooks the Pacific and the Nuevo Vallarta Marina and offers a variety of regional, international and gourmet Spa cuisine and a great view. The Mayapan Restaurant features authentic Mexican dishes and beverage services such as beer by the bucket and a tequila tasting bar. Also try the Kabah Sports Bar and Xcaret Night Club. Enjoy drinks or watch the games on international sports satellite TV.
Recreation at Paradise Village
How about kayaking, aqua cycling, boogie boarding, snorkeling, scuba diving and paddle boats? You can also parasail, ride a Jet Ski, wind surf or sail. You can also go deep sea fishing for marlin and sailfish. Deep sea fishing boats may be chartered through the recreation office and depart from the marina dock. Paradise Village has four lighted tennis courts.
Paradise Village Real Estate
Check out www.paradisemexico.com for real estate opportunities including home site on the golf course and at the marina. Call 800-995-5714.
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Dave Simmonds, publisher of the widely read The Mexico File newsletter, first drove a van to PV in 1970 while in college, and even with the growth, it's still his favorite city in the country.
"Puerto Vallarta first came to public attention in 1963 when John Huston brought his cast there for the filming of Night of the Iguana, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Sue Lyons and Deborah Kerr," Simmonds said.
"Taylor and Burton soon bought houses in the area along the Rio Cuale know as Gringo Gulch. The houses were across the small street from each other so Burton had a bridge built over the road to connect the two. The property is now called Casa Kimberley, a Bed and Breakfast with rooms for $85-$100."
"John Wayne was also an occasional PV visitor, although he preferred Mazatlan and La Paz due to the superior fishing in those waters. The hangout in those days was the Hotel Oceana, now housing Tequila's Bar and Restaurant and some T-shirt shops. The bar at the old Oceana was one of the world's best with always a cast of interesting characters in attendance," Simmonds said.
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!